Tsukamoto's Haze is a nightmarish journey
into the mind of man who is trapped in a tiny, cramped concrete structure. The man is alone in this dark, creepy world with no idea how or why he has arrived there. Tsukamoto's style is very prevalent in this film, using sound design and aggressive camerawork to put the viewer into this dark, nightmarish place. I would arge that his style fits this film better than almost any of his other films and it's just creepy and atmospheric as it gets in cinema. I feel that a warning should be attached to this film for anyone dealing with claustrophobia because I don't think I've ever seen another film which makes it more apparent and resonant. At 50 minutes in length, its a quick watch that packs an ambiguous ending that really grabbed me both intellectually and emotionally. It's dark, dingy and hard to watch at times but in the end it's just a beautiful film with a final shot that leaves the viewer devastated. I don't want to give anything away, but for me this film is essentially an allegory about how loneliness can consume our lives and it's without a doubt another unique and though-provoking piece of cinema from Shinya Tsukamota.
Frances technically lives in New York City, but she doesn't really have an apartment of her own, living on the couch in another person's residence. She works as an apprentice for a dance company, but she really isn't motivated to become a dancer. Even Frances' best friend, Sophia, who she speaks endlessly about, isn't on speaking terms at the moment. Frances lacks pretty much any sense of direction but lives her life with a lightness that is very rare. Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha is a comedic film that follows this unique character through New York as she struggles to find herself. Going into the film I really expecting Frances Ha to be Baumbach's version of Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, given the similar black and white aesthetic and thematic similarities. While Bujalski's film was profound and rich in ideas, Frances Ha goes a much lighter route. The character for Frances is a very selfish individual who really only looks at things in how they will affect her personally. While this would normally come off as a massive criticism of the film, Baumbauch, with the help of Greta Gerwig's great work, gives us a character that is so likeable and fluffy that we can't help but like her regardless. Through stretches of Frances Ha I really struggled to understand what Baumbauch's intentions were. The vapidness and lack of responsibility many of the characters have in this film are presented in a very comical way, making me wonder if Baumbauch is making fun of them or simply showcasing a class which exists in our culture. With Frances Ha I believe Baumbauch is simply presenting the early-mid 20's crisis- where individuals are naive about the world and become forced to figure out what to do with their life. Frances Ha is a very whimsical comedy, with a great witty screenplay that constantly keeps the viewer engaged. There are lots of small but brilliant comedic observations throughout the film which only Baumbach's writing can supply. It's rather skimpy in terms of insight and not very deep at all, but I'm sure many people will find it engaging and refreshing. My biggest problem with Frances Ha relates to the final 15 minutes or so, in which the film seems to wrap itself up far too easily. The film seems to suggest that Frances has figured it out but I never felt that happened in what was presented to viewer. In the end, Frances Ha is really the epitome of "white people problems", but what it lacks in profound insight to a generation it makes up for in whimsical escapism.
In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military. Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist, leading to the direct deaths of over one million "communists" who in many cases were simple farmers or union members. To orchestrate these mass killings, The army used paramilitaries and gangsters, men who are still in power to this day. Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is a documentary that challenges these former Indonesian death squad leaders to tell their stories, even re-enacting them in any cinematic genre they wish, including gangster films and lavish musical numbers. As the documentary unfolds it becomes clear that the men's re-enactments, while fascinating, aren't what the movies is about, with the everyday interaction and conversations between the death squad leaders capturing something incredibly unique in the world. Unlike other nations where perpetrators of genocide have been brought to some form of justice, these men have stayed in power, are praised as heroes, even becoming role models for thousands upon thousands of youth paramilitaries. The emotional detachment these men have from the heinous acts they've committed is incredibly disturbing and we see how they morally justify their actions through denial. The details which the men reveal are sombering, like how they always wore very dark clothing, so the blood of their victims would not be as evident. The Act of Killing is full of profound discussions about morality, the difference between right and wrong, and it's sure to raise much debate and controversy from those that have seen the film. One of the more interesting discussions revolves around how America as a culture celebrates violence and with our most common export, movies, we spread this celebration across the world. The film certainly doesn't make any outlandish claims about films cause violence but it certainly supports the notion that to the simple or naive-minded individuals it can make violence much easier. While all of this is fascinating, where the film becomes a masterpiece is the unexpected journey one of the Death squad leader goes through. When we first meet this man he talks about how alcohol, cannabis, and ecstasy were ways he would relax, mentioning how he often wakes up in the middle of the night form nightmares. While it would seem obvious that he is haunted by his heinous acts, the man is oblivious to the connection, with one of his fellow associates even explaining to him it's nothing but a nerve disturbance in which "you can get vitamins for". As the film unfolds, and this man creates his own cinematic re-telling of his crimes, he begins to slowly grasp the difference between the make-believe of films and reality. This leads to an ending that's quite frankly devastating, seeing this man finally realize the severity of the crimes he has committed. Seeing this man fall apart both physically and mentally, vomiting at the realization is an incredibly resonant moment and something I will never forget. Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is a powerful, surreal, and terrifying film that challenges the viewer's perceptions in more ways than one.
Rashid, a young man from a traditional Arab family, runs with a gang in Hackney, one of London's more volatile neighborhoods. Rashid's younger brother, Mo, idolizes his charismatic older brother and wants to follow in his footsteps, though Rashid envisions a better life for Mo. After one of Rashid's friends is killed in a gang dispute he begins to reevaluate his life, and with the help of Sayyid, a photography who came from a similar background, he gets his life headed in the direction. While Rashid's life is headed down the right path, Mo begins the gangster lifestyle, setting up a collision course between the two young men. Sally El Hosaini's My Brother The Devil is an impressive debut feature exploring two brothers whose lives are molded as much by the streets as their own parents. Early on the film does a great job at capturing Mo's romanticism about the street culture, mimicking his brother's actions and seeking out opportunities to help. The narrative unfolds in a pretty genius way, showing how Rashid and Mo's characters completely reverse trajectory, going towards the opposite paths from where they were at the beginning of the film. My Brother The Devil certainly believes in how ones environment can radically affect one's lifestyle and the journey of these two brothers is a genuine, raw testament to that fact. Rashid and Mo are men with tender hearts, stuck in a culture and environment that encourages toughness and lack of emotion. My only complaint about the film revolves around the revel that Rashid is a homosexual. I felt that it took away from the main narrative, almost unintentionally suggesting that Rashid's sexuality has something to do with his inability to cope with a life on the streets. I understand how Homosexuality is viewed as a huge weakness in gangster culture but I didn't really see how this served the major themes of the story. In the end, My Brother The Devil is a strong debut feature and I'll definitely be keeping my eyes out for Sally El Hosaini's next feature.
Death Laid an Egg is the story of Marco, Ewa, and Anna, who work together at a high-tech chicken farm. Marco's wife owns the chicken farm, while Marco works as a scientist seeking out new ways to effectively breed the chickens and their eggs. Marco is having an affair with Ewa, the beautiful young woman who lives with the couple, and together they are plotting to kill Anna. What makes things even stranger is that Anna is also lovers with Ewa, who in turn is also plotting the death of her husband. Giulio Questi's Death Laid An Egg is an extremely bizarre yet memorable look at this odd love-triangle, exploring jealousy and obsession among other things. Death Laid An Egg is a hard film to define, being extremely subversive and containing only a semi-linear structure with editing that can only be described as psychedelic. The main thing that really jumps out about Death Laid An Egg is just how hypnotic the whole experience is, with Questi using extremely odd cinematography with utterly unique camera movements and visuals that seem to aim at distorting the viewer's perceptions. This is a psychedelic experience, using an extremely creepy soundtrack which along with everything else really transports the viewer into the psyche of its characters, mainly Marco, which effectively makes the viewer see and feel what the characters do in both creepy and confusing ways. Besides the thematic elements revolving around lust and jealousy, the most obvious theme of Dead Laid an Egg has got to be it's Marxist critique of Western economics revolving around the high-tech chicken factory being overseen by this shadowy corporation intent on creating a genetic abberation - a headless, wingless, and boneless chicken which produces more meat but isn't exactly safe. This element of the story is really the glue of the film which keeps it together from a structural standpoint, though as I've A film that defines genre description, Death Laid An Egg transports the viewer into an experience like nothing I've ever seen, and while I struggled at times to gather what the film was trying to say, i couldn't take my eyes off it.
Set in a post-World War II Los Angeles, He Walked by Night tells the true story of a clever but psychotic burglar who is able to consistently stay one step ahead of the law. To avoid detection, he changes his routine during nearly every crime, leaving the police lost and confused. One night the burglar shoots and kills a police officer, leading the entire department on his trail, searching for clues to his identity. Although Alfred L. Werker is credited as the director of He Walked By Night, many believe that Anthony Mann was the true creative force behind the film. From Mann's frequent collaborators like screenwriter John C. Higgins and cinematographer John Alton, to the look and feel of the film, I found it to be pretty clear that this was the work of Mann. He Walked By Night plays a lot like Mann's T-Men, using a documentary tone with narration to create a film that feels very much like a salute to the Los Angeles police department, capturing the long grueling hours and hard and tedious work that goes into protecting the general public. While the two police officers (Sgt. Chuck Jones and Sgt. Marty Brennan) who are tasked to find this criminal would be considered the main protagonists by many, Mann makes these character's rather bland and uninteresting, seemingly making a point that no individual man in the force stands out from the rest, with the police department as a whole being the main protagonist of the film. The cinematography of He Walked By Night is probably the strongest attribute of the film, with tons of beautifully shot scenes including a stylish climax in the Los Angeles Sewer which rivals Carol Reed's The Third Man in photography and intensity. Mann's He Walked By Night is another great example of an effective Film Noir, using expressionistic lighting and photography along with brutal realism to craft an ode to the Los Angeles police force.
Uninspired by his job in college admissions, Jesse Fisher, an introverted person, lives his life buried away in books. Jesse lives a life of nostalgia for his past, stuck daydreaming about his time in college where he fears he has already spend the best days of his life. When one of his favorite professors invites him back to campus for his retirement dinner, Jesse jumps at the chance to return, leading him to meet Zibby, a precocious woman 16 years younger, that awakes Jesse's desire and passion for connection. Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts is an exploration of the romanticism people feel for their past and how they fear their lives are simply passing them by. Early on in Liberal Arts the film makes it very clear that Jesse is a man who misses the freedom of intellectual exploration which college provides, showing his over-the-top romanticism of his past. Jesse is a character who wants to feel alive again and Zibby is really the person that injects him with youth and reminds him to go out there and live life. The romantic relationship between the two of them is probably one of the least interesting aspects of the film but I could argue this is intentional, given Jesse's weakened state of feeling old and despondent. The film doesn't feel like another indie film about middle-class angst as much as an exploration of people's fears and desires centered around growing old. Richard Jenkins' character, the retiring professor, and John Magaro's character, the socially inept but brilliant college student, add a nice symmetry to the narrative of Liberal Arts, capturing how people are always searching to find themselves regardless of age. These two characters represent Jesse's past and potential future, if he doesn't learn to begin living life. In the end, the strongest aspect of LIberal Arts is the dialogue, full of some interesting opinions/thoughts about growing old, cynicism, intellectualism and life in general.
Sarah, Abby, and Lou are three childhood friends who set aside their differences and reunite for a girls' weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine. A relaxing vacation is exactly what the three girls needed but when an unexpected incident occurs, they find themselves in a deadly fight for survival. Katie Aselton's Black Rock is a horror/thriller with a basic premise that ultimately fails to be anything but another generic and uninteresting horror film. Black Rock spends a lot of time early on focused on the animosity that Lou and Abby have for one and other, stemming from an adulterous night in their past. It's somewhat interesting as a character device, especially when shit hits the fan, but the film unfolds in a way that is as bland and boring as shouting: Nothing brings out female empowerment like a pair of psychopaths out to kill you! In an odd way the film almost seems to want to be an allegory about woman's oppression in a society driven by men, but everything from the story to the direction is unfocused and vapid. I personally do believe that Katie Aselton is a talented individual but the direction of this film is incredibly sloppy, almost as if she watched a bunch of horror movies and simply copied their style. On the bright site, Black Rock does have its moments of strong tension and horror with a finale that features some pretty primal-type violence. Black Rock is a lean horror film that has far too many laughably character decisions and suspect writing to make it anything more than utterly forgettable and quite frankly, uninteresting.
Star Trek Into Darkness begins with the Enterprise and its crew returning home only to discover a new, deadly threat. A man, who is part of the federation, has begun waging a war against the fleet and everything it stands for through terrorist-type attacks. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads the manhunt to seek out the man responsible for these attacks. JJ Abrams Star Trek Into Darkness is a fast-paced, engaging summer blockbuster that is both endlessly entertaining and thought-provoking. The narrative of this film is much tighter than the first film, being far more engaging while doing a great job at balancing the fanboy demands and keeping things unique and interesting. Star Trek has always been a pretty self contained story about a crew exploring the far reaches of our universe and with Into Darkness Abrams really opens this world up, exploring earth and the inner-workings of the Federation. While some may not like this, calling it "Star Wars-esque", I found it to be a welcome addition to the Trek lore. While all that I've mentioned certainly makes Into the Darkness already better than its predecessor, it's Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as John Harrison that really steals the entire film. Cumberbatch is as good as advertised and his character, along with the storyline, really capture the moral complications that exist with war. Things are not black and white, no matter how much people want them to be, and Into the Darkness really captures how morality can be blurred. As far as the visuals go, the film looks great with very well done CGI work, fun action scenes, and interesting worlds. Star Trek Into The Darkness is far better than its predecessor in nearly every way and probably my favorite thing Abrams has ever done.
Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell investigates the mystery surrounding her mother, Diane, a woman who meant a lot to many people and fell to cancer far too young. The film interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, giving the viewer this type of family mythology that shifts from recollection to nostalgia in an attempt to understand her own families past, but even more importantly how memory and perception fuel many of the stories that make up our lives. Stories We Tell is an incredibly personal and intimate look into Sarah's personal life, never shying away from the most acute details. The film is structured in a simple but very effective way with various interview footage inter-cut against stock/b-roll footage in a way that's fluid and emotionally resonant. These dated images which are juxtaposed with the interview dialogue are very beautiful and down-right poetic in how they effectively capture the emotion involved. I really liked how the details which make up the story of her family aren't displayed in a linear-specific way, instead unfolding like any story being told with an almost circular motion going back and forth in time as more details are revealed. The heart of the story is centered around the love triangle between Sarah's mother, Diane, her biological father, Henry, and Michael, the man who raised her as his own. This relationship is explored in great detail but I think what makes this film so special is simply how unbiased or opinionated it truly is. Each of the characters have their own opinions, some stronger than others, yet the film never wavers from being neutral. Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell is an emotionally potent study of how we remember the stories of our past, capturing how memory and perception play a big part in us creating our own truth.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.